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Bookshelf: Conquer cross-cultural gaps

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in Workplace Communication

Some rules of public speaking transcend cultural differences. But for Elizabeth Urech, author of Speaking Globally (Kogan Page, 1998), reaching diverse audiences requires a range of rhetorical tools.

Urech, an international communication consultant, understands cross-cultural nuances and how speakers’ styles can either enhance or detract from their message. She includes detailed “country profiles” for 37 nations—ranging from Argentina to the United States—that identify how different cultures treat time, names and titles, customary business dress, nonverbal cues and the use of humor. This is a great resource for a speaker who’s preparing to address a group from a foreign land.

For example, Urech notes that in Switzerland “time is sacred,” and you should always arrive a few minutes early. But in Spain “time is flexible,” especially in the south where schedules are less rigid.

The book also offers general speaking tips, ranging from handling media interviews to writing a vivid, persuasive speech. To her credit, Urech does not rehash obvious pointers; instead, she proposes fresh, actionable suggestions. Here are two of her techniques:

Visually greet two listeners. Before you begin speaking, look at two people in different parts of the room and wait until they return your friendly glance. This signals to everyone that you’re about to start. Don’t look over everyone’s head or visually sweep the room, or you’ll lose a chance to establish a connection.

Give “plus point” answers. When you’re asked a question, move beyond a yes-no answer to add a positive comment or additional insight. By building on your answer, you advance the conversation and reinforce key points.

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